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Sampson W. Keeble

This Nashville barber, businessman, and politician became the first African American elected to the Tennessee General Assembly. Keeble was born circa 1832 in Rutherford County to slave parents, Sampson W. and Nancy Keeble. From the age of nineteen until 1863 he served as pressman for two weekly newspapers in Murfreesboro. Near the end of the Civil War, Keeble moved to Nashville, and by 1866 he had established the Rock City Barber Shop. He became an active leader as a member of the advisory board of the Freedmen's Savings and Trust Company Bank and treasurer of the board of directors of the Colored Agricultural and Mechanical Association.

During the Reconstruction era, Keeble joined other local blacks in the Davidson County Republican Party. In 1872 he won the Republican nomination for a seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives. Helped by a heavy black vote for presidential candidate General U. S. Grant and some local white voters who viewed him as a moderate black man, Keeble was narrowly elected to the Tennessee General Assembly in November 1872.

While in the legislature, Keeble served on the House Military Affairs Committee and the Immigration Committee. Before his term ended in 1875, Keeble introduced three unsuccessful bills: one to amend Nashville's charter to allow blacks to operate businesses in the downtown area; one to protect Negro laborers and their wages; and one to gain state funds for the Tennessee Manual Labor University.

After service in the general assembly, Keeble was elected a magistrate in Davidson County and served from 1877 until 1882. He sought to return to the general assembly in 1878, but was defeated by a Greenback Party candidate.

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010